Today I Read…The Colossus Rises

The Colossus RisesToday I read The Colossus Rises, the first book in the Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis. The website for the series can be found here, and includes a free copy of the prequel novella Seven Wonders Journals: The Select, and some interesting information about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a teacher’s guide.

Thirteen-year-old Jack McKinley isn’t having the greatest day. He woke up late on the day he has an important math test, the flying toy he was using as an alarm clock hit him in the head, his latest don’t-care au pair quit, part of his hair turned white overnight, he has a run-in with the school bully, and he got hit by a car and kidnapped by crazy scientists to a mysterious island. Oh, and the crazy scientists say he’s going to die, along with the other kids on the island. Definitely not Jack’s greatest day ever.

According to Professor Bhegad, head of the Karai Institute and the person responsible for their kidnapping (but only to help them, he says), Jack, Cass, Marco, and Aly were all born with something called the G7W marker–a gene that lets them tap into unused parts of their brains and gives them special gifts. Except that no one with the G7W marker has lived past the age of fourteen. Jack and the others are on a deadline–literally–to find the Loculi, seven magical orbs from the ancient lost city of Atlantis, in the hopes that they can cure themselves and save their lives. The only people they can trust are each other, as they fight against the duplicitous Karai Institute scientists, the Massarene monks who are trying to stop them, and actual ancient monsters, and travel to each of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, where the Loculi have been hidden away for centuries. First stop, the Colossus of Rhodes…and is that a griffin?

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This was another one of the advanced reading copies that I got at the OLA Super Conference, though it has since been released to the public. The recommended reading level is grade 3-7, or ages 8-12, which I would say is fairly appropriate. The book is on the longer side at 348 pages, but the chapters are short. There are scattered pictures throughout the book to illustrate notes and clues that the children find, such as the note that Jack’s “don’t-care-giver” leaves to say she quits.

While the main character is Jack, at least for this first book, the quartet of children follow fairly familiar archetypes, which Bhegad describes as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor.” Each child has a special gift, thanks to the G7W marker–Marco is brave and physically gifted, Cass can navigate anywhere, Aly is a computer whiz and an inventor, and Jack can put very different things together until they work. They follow the formula of children (or people, since it happens in adult novels too) thrown together by an outside force, with some kind of special bond linking them together, but they still have to find a way to mold their disparate personalities into a solidified group to accomplish their task–in this case, find the Loculi and save their lives and hopefully get them back to their families. Since they’re all close to the same age, thirteen, they also have to deal with growing up and taking on the world on their own terms instead of being protected by their parents. They have to rely on their own talents and brains instead of letting the grown-ups fix everything for them, since inevitably the grown-ups either can’t be trusted or screw it up, often both.It’s been done before, but it’s a formula that works.

Overall, the book was pretty good, but for the first book in a travel adventure series I felt that it dragged a little bit getting the actual travel adventure started. The kids don’t go to Greece to the first Wonder, the Colossus of Rhodes, until chapter 37. Everything that happens to them on the island is probably necessary to build the world, but it just feels a little slow for some reason. The series is called Seven Wonders–I want to get to the Wonders already! Also, Jack’s Ugliosaurus toy is out of place. He describes it as a flying reptile on the first page, and on the second page says that it is “a fanged eagle crossed with a lion, bright-red”–not a reptile. Then later, he figures out that he has been dreaming of the real Ugliosaurus his entire life, and then that it is a real, ancient animal, and then that it is a griffin–it’s just very complicated, like the author wasn’t quite sure what the animal was or how it was going to be used, and then didn’t go back and fix all of the references so they’re compatible. The entire book feels like it needs one more strong edit, just to tighten everything up, which makes sense for an advanced reader’s edition. Still, I’ll be interested to read the rest of the series, if not breathlessly waiting for it to come out.

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ON THE MORNING I was scheduled to die, a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house. The thirty-degree temperature didn’t seem to bother him, but he must have had a lousy breakfast, because he let out a burp as loud as a tuba.

Belching barefoot giants who look like Vikings are not normal in Belleville, Indiana. But I didn’t really get a chance to see the guy closely.

At that moment, I, Jack McKinley, was under attack in my own bedroom. By a flying reptile.

I could have used an alarm clock. But I’d been up late studying for my first-period math test and I’m a deep sleeper. Dad couldn’t wake me because he was in Singapore on business. And Vanessa, the au pair I call my don’t-caregiver, always slept till noon.

I needed a big sound. Something I couldn’t possibly sleep through. That’s when I saw my papier-mâché volcano from last month’s science fair, still on my desk. It was full of baking soda. So I got my dad’s coffeemaker, filled it with vinegar, and rigged it to the volcano with a plastic tube. I set the timer for 6:30 A.M., when the coffeemaker would release the vinegar into the volcano, causing a goop explosion. I put a chute at the base of the volcano to capture that goop. In the chute was a billiard ball, which would roll down toward a spring-loaded catapult on my chair. The catapult would release a big old plastic Ugliosaurus™—a fanged eagle crossed with a lion, bright-red.

Bang—when that baby hit the wall I’d have to be dead not to wake up. Foolproof, right?

Not quite. Around 6:28, I was in the middle of a nightmare. I’d had this dream way too many times: me, running through the jungle in a toga, chased by snarling, drooling, piglike beasts, whose screeches fill the smoky sky. Nice, huh? Usually I awake from this dream when a gap in the earth opens beneath my feet.

But this time, I fell in. Down into the darkness. To my death.

At the moment of contact, the Gaseous Giant burped in real life. The sound woke me up.

The coffeemaker-volcano alarm went off. And the Ugliosaurus whacked me between the eyes.

Which, in a nutshell, is how the worst morning of my life began. The last morning I would awaken in my own bed.

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